Paper $35.00 ISBN: 9780226494906 Published December 2018
Cloth $90.00 ISBN: 9780226494876 Published December 2018
E-book $10.00 to $35.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226495064 Published December 2018 Also Available From
E-book Retailers: Apple iBooks B&N Nook Google Play Kobo Library Vendors: EBSCO

The Neighborhood of Gods

The Sacred and the Visible at the Margins of Mumbai

William Elison

The Neighborhood of Gods

William Elison

336 pages | 10 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018¬†
Paper $35.00 ISBN: 9780226494906 Published December 2018
Cloth $90.00 ISBN: 9780226494876 Published December 2018
E-book $10.00 to $35.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226495064 Published December 2018
There are many holy cities in India, but Mumbai is not usually considered one of them. More popular images of the city capture the world’s collective imagination—as a Bollywood fantasia or a slumland dystopia. Yet for many, if not most, people who live in the city, the neighborhood streets are indeed shared with local gods and guardian spirits. In The Neighborhood of Gods, William Elison examines the link between territory and divinity in India’s most self-consciously modern city. In this densely settled environment, space is scarce, and anxiety about housing is pervasive. Consecrating space—first with impromptu displays and then, eventually, with full-blown temples and official recognition—is one way of staking a claim. But how can a marginalized community make its gods visible, and therefore powerful, in the eyes of others?
The Neighborhood of Gods explores this question, bringing an ethnographic lens to a range of visual and spatial practices: from the shrine construction that encroaches on downtown streets, to the “tribal art” practices of an indigenous group facing displacement, to the work of image production at two Bollywood film studios. A pioneering ethnography, this book offers a creative intervention in debates on postcolonial citizenship, urban geography, and visuality in the religions of India.


Chapter One
Potemkin Village: Spaces and Surfaces at a Film Studio

Chapter Two
Concrete Spirits: Religious Structures on the Public Streets

Chapter Three
Secular Saint: Sai Baba of Shirdi and Darshan in the City

Chapter Four
Urban Tribal: At Home in Filmistan

Chapter Five
Expanding Contract: Tribal Space and Official Knowledge

Chapter Six
Immanent Domains: Exhibits and Evidence in the Forest


Works Cited
Review Quotes
Journal of Religion & Film
"The Neighborhood of Gods is a welcome addition to the scholarship on religion and film and makes a crucial contribution to South Asian Studies, Anthropology of Religion, Visual Culture, Film and Religion and Urban Studies."
American Ethnologist
"The Neighborhood of Gods will be useful to anthropologists of media, visual culture, and religion as well as those focused on South Asia."
History of Religions
"For religionists, Elison effectively puts together some time-honored truths about Hinduism and its strong visuality, with original ideas about the uses, meanings, and powers of space and place. From the challenging particularities of Mumbai—huge, diverse, riven by inequalities, ethnic rivalries, political and theological animosities and alliances—Elison’s book makes far-reaching contributions. It should have an enduring impact on the ways we think about urban spaces and their human and divine inhabitants."
Reading Religion
"This study will be a provocative introduction to the field of South Asian religions for upper level undergraduates and graduate students interested in visual culture, anthropology, and performance studies and the arts in South Asia."
International Journal of Hindu Studies
"One might expect a study of religion in urban India to focus on Hindu and Muslim forms. The Neighborhood of Gods does not, and the results are both fresh and thought-provoking."
Religion and Society
"The Neighborhood of Gods by William Elison is probably one of the best scholarly books ever written on Indian urban spaces. . . . The depth, originality, sensibility, and rich- ness of Elison’s study make this volume a must- read for a wide range of public and scholarly disciplines."
Arvind Rajagopal, New York University
The Neighborhood of Gods is an ambitious, deeply erudite, and well-written book that moves across diverse ethnographic sites—from Hindu religious ritual to tribal practice, to Bollywood and urban politics in Mumbai—with an engaging style and innovative research.”
Lawrence Cohen, University of California, Berkeley
“Elison offers a remarkable, persuasive, and—notwithstanding its theoretical and ethnographic rigor and ambition—accessible argument. The Neighborhood of Gods extends the emerging anthropology of the image, working across generic and disciplinary conventions to assess the visual practices by which space is made sacred and the precariousness of marginal labor and habitation is negotiated in urban India. It is a resonant portrait of a city that integrates the best of recent writing on religion and secularism, on Bollywood film, on slums and work, and on dreams, spirits, and the uncanny—and rethinks it mightily.”
For more information, or to order this book, please visit
Google preview here

Chicago Manual of Style

Chicago Blog: Religion

Events in Religion

Keep Informed